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Judy Wensel: Director Of The Fusion Project

March 20, 2013

These are certainly exciting times for Judy Wensel, an emerging theatre artist whose star is on the rise at the Globe. She has the Fusion Project, of course, and we’ll get to that in a minute, but there’s also the recent stint as assistant director for Pride And Prejudice, and the announcement that next season she will be involved both on the Main Stage and in the Sandbox Series as a director, actor and creator.

“It was easier to be in school, in some ways,” Wensel says with a smile. “In school, everything was laid out for you neatly and conveniently. Now, as an independent artist, I’m finding I have to work on so many differentJudy Wensel projects all at once. It’s hard to live in the moment. I’m embracing it, but it’s difficult to just sit back and enjoy it, because there’s so much that has to be done.”

The role of assistant director in a Main Stage production is “defined as you go along.” With Pride And Prejudice, given its short rehearsal period and large cast, it was mostly a matter of learning by observing and absorbing. The director, Marti Maraden, was “remarkably generous” when it came to taking questions, and as you can imagine, considering the importance that costumes play in this show, Wensel gained knowledge on how dressing is done in a large-scale period piece.

Next season, Wensel will make her Main Stage directorial debut, with Salt-Water Moon, David French’s story about young love in a small town in Newfoundland in the 1920s. The show does not go up until March, 2014, but already the script is “percolating” in her head, and Wensel has started thinking in terms of actors and designers.

For the Sandbox Series, next season, Wensel has created and will perform a solo work called Shangri-La, a nostalgic look at the summer of 1963 through the eyes of a 13-year-old girl. This show will be directed by Denise Clarke, of Calgary-based One Yellow Rabbit, where Wensel participated in a Summer Lab Intensive last year.

Right now, of course, it’s all about Fusion and its run of four nights in the Templeton Studio Cabaret. Wensel is directing the collective creation herself this spring after co-directing with Daniel Maslany in 2012 and with Lucy Hill in 2013. As you know, this annual event was introduced by Joey Tremblay, in 2005, but what you might not remember is that the first group of student actors included a young woman named Judy Wensel.

“Back then, none of us had any idea what this Fusion thing actually was. It came down to committing, and trusting, and constantly asking what, what, what?” she says with a laugh. “The project has come a long way. Now it’s a group of students who really get it.”

From the facilitator, for lack of a better word, the Fusion project demands not only writing and directing. The duties include “filtering ideas, and harvesting the fruits of labour.” It’s important to have “an eye for what works and what doesn’t,” and it’s useful to develop “a bank of aesthetic.” Still, having participated both as actor and director, Wensel knows all too well that “it remains a vague and often confusing process.”

The cast this spring features Sarah Bergbusch, Mattea Columpsi, Jennifer Fuller, Trang Nguyen, Erika Sawchyn, Afrothiti Yannitsos and Cameron Chomyn, with sound design by Orion Paradis and recorded music by local band The Lazy MKs. “They are dynamic,” Wensel says of the actors. “They are all smart performers and creators.”

The story tells of six “maudlin” women who reside in an oceanside community where life is “routine and regimented” until one day a man is washed up on the shore. The piece unfolds with the characters getting to know one another and “figuring each other out.”

Initially, the inspiration was music. More specifically, the “bizarre, macabre” sounds of The Handsome Family, a husband-and-wife country act based in Chicago. Wensel wanted to explore the theme of “water,” and the imagery that came to mind included such things as “navigation, cartology, fishing and whaling.”

The rest was up to the performers. “They were just so relaxed about the whole thing,” Wensel says. “They created a world and the rules that govern how that world works, and from there the world just grew.”

A graduate of the University of Regina, class of 2009, Wensel is looking forward to even more projects as a director, actor and creator, including one that would be the most ambitious of them all. She is hoping to establish her own theatre company.

“It’s on my radar,” she says. “I want to do it soon, or at least get the ball rolling. I feel the time is right.”

Fusion Project runs from March 20-23, 2013. Visit the Globe Theatre website for more details, cast information, and to purchase tickets. 

Nick Miliokas is a freelance writer and editor based in Regina. You can reach him by email at rozenstern@rocketmail.com

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